Written by Janine Walker

Indian food is one of the cuisines that has taken the world by storm and yet it has seen tremendous change during the past decade. Gone are the days when eating Indian simply refers to devouring a curry. The food has reinvented itself – it is lighter and healthier; there is a focus on regionality and it encompasses fine dining.

Leading the revolution are two exciting chefs – Vivek Singh and Anjali Pathak – who visited South Africa in August for the Durban Good Food & Wine Show. Singh is the man behind one of the UK’s most successful Indian restaurants, London’s The Cinnamon Club and its less formal siblings Cinnamon Kitchen and Cinnamon Soho.

From an early age, Vivek had been reading Escoffier and was later influenced by chefs such as Marco Pierre White and Charlie Trotter. “I knew when I opened a restaurant that I wanted to combine the best Indian spices and techniques with the very best British and seasonal produce to create a unique marriage. Our ethos at the restaurants is to constantly evolve and push boundaries so diners experience something new time and time again.”

Today he’s inspired by chefs such as Jason Atherton, the man behind Pollen Street Social, and Eric Chavot of Brasserie Chavot. Explains Vivek: “Jason brilliantly presents the old in a new way and is a great example of reinventing food for the better. Eric is French trained but is open to new influences and will introduce soya into his recipe or spices into a confit! It displays a fantastic openness to new influences which is the way I believe international food is headed.”

Singh was thrilled to visit South Africa for the first time. Speaking before his trip on what he was looking forward to experience in SA, he says, “I love taking Indian spices and cooking techniques and adapting them to the region where I am cooking, using their best produce. I will definitely be trying game which I have heard so much about. I have also heard of bobotie and bunny chow and the colourful Indian diaspora in Durban. I cannot wait to experience it all.”

Anjali Pathak is the brand ambassador of Patak’s Foods, a range of curry spice pastes, sauces and ready meals which was started in 1957 by her grandfather Lakshmishankar. The “h” was dropped from the food products in 1962 to make the name easier to pronounce. With qualifications from Prue Leith as well as those in diet and nutrition, she’s determined to show the world that Indian food is not simply about curries and that, contrary to belief, it can be light and healthy.

“For years it has been made out that Indian food was all about curries and sauces and that it couldn’t be presented dry. It also had to be meat. We now know that you can cut down on saturated fat and too much salt without losing flavour,” says Anjali.

“I travel around the world as much as I can learning about new cuisines and techniques, especially in India. I have worked in some of the best regional kitchens so I can enhance my knowledge and modernise some of the dated traditional techniques so they do not die out through social change.”

She recalls her most treasured food memory: “When I was about four years old my grandmother bought me a baby sized rolling pin and traditional rolling board to roll Indian breads. Each night we would make the dough for the fresh chapattis. Then she would encourage me to roll them out in perfect rounds saying: ‘If you can make them round, one day you will find a good husband like your grandfather’.” She laughs uproariously: “I am unmarried with no children, maybe because my chapattis still aren’t round!”

*Article from The Culinary Artist, Issue 2

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